top of page





Human Capital

Employment Equity



South African Sign Language

A South African Sign Language Interpreter is a lesser-known

profession. Interpreters play a pivotal role in facilitating

communication between two parties speaking a different

language. Likewise, sign language interpreters serve Deaf people

communicating with the typical speaking community.

A South African Sign Language Interpreter (Interpreter) must

be able to work in a team, have strong spoken communication

and South African Sign Language (SASL) skills, public speaking

confidence, the ability to maintain intense concentration and

think rapidly. However, the most important is integrity with a

sense of responsibility to remain neutral.

Sign Language is not universal globally, as there are many

dialects like British Sign Language, American Sign Language

and German Sign Language. In the context of spoken

communication, people from different countries do not

necessarily communicate in the same language. For example,

in a conversation between a German person only speaking

German and a British person only speaking English, each would

struggle to understand the other.

Over the past year, intending to broaden inclusion, TFM

Magazine has had eDeaf interpreters participate in the ‘Talking

Transformation’ Summit. The two-hour webinar now boasts

participation from the Deaf Community, who before could not

interactively participate on such a platform.

For five years, Dimakatso Martina Motimele has been an

Interpreter at eDeaf. Her primary role is to facilitate conversations

and relay messages between Deaf and hearing parties in

the public and private sectors. She holds the highest form of

accreditation by the South African Translators Institute (SATI).

She is studying for a Master’s Degree in Interpreting at the

University of the Witwatersrand. Currently, she is considering

applying for a PhD program next year and simultaneously

opening up more opportunities by learning International

Sign Language.

What motivated you to become an Interpreter?

While studying SASL at the University of the Witwatersrand, I

liked how I could use my face and body to communicate and

express myself. I met Deaf people, who were highly passionate

and inspirational, for the first time during my years as a student.

I realised there was a scarcity of Interpreters in South Africa and

that people knew very little about the profession. For me, this was

the perfect opportunity to build a foundation and grow

in the industry.

What does accreditation do for the person

using the services of an interpreter?

Many people are under the impression that if one knows

SASL, one can become an interpreter, which is not true.

As a professional interpreter, one would need to have

undergone training and, ideally, obtained a certificate or

qualification in interpreting.

The SATI is the largest association in South Africa representing

translators and language practitioners who are academic and

professional. The SATI Code of Ethics goes beyond facilitating

access to communication. It guides professional conduct and

maintains vital principles like confidentiality and remaining neutral.

The association focuses on South African Sign Language

professionals and other spoken languages. People can study

to become professional interpreters at The University of the

Witwatersrand, The University of the Free State and North-West

University. Short courses are available at the Wits Language

School where one can specialise in learning to interpret.

What are the consequences of using an

Interpreter with no accreditation?

Many people mistakenly believe that if one uses SASL, one can

become an interpreter without further training. An infuriating

and embarrassing example is the inadequate performance of

the Interpreter at Nelson Mandela’s funeral, but the incident did

create awareness. The public at large became aware of the size

of the Deaf Community and it put the importance of credible and

accredited Interpreters in the spotlight.

There is currently no language board for Interpreters, which has

unfortunately led to no regulator holding individuals accountable

for interpreting services rendered to the public. Another

consequence is unregulated prices when accepting and rendering

services. It further leads to individuals not being adequately skilled

or trained, thus increasing incidents of exploitation.

How important is the credibility and integrity of

an Interpreter?

The role of an interpreter is based on trust. The person you are

interpreting on behalf of is relying on receiving correct information.

From a corporate perspective, these values are paramount when

interpreting for a Deaf Learner during an interview, an employee

induction programme or a disciplinary hearing. From a personal

perspective, a Deaf person generally needs an interpreter when

dealing with financial, medical or specific work-related issues.

Therefore, credible interpretation with integrity is critical to the

well-being of the Deaf person.

There are times when interpreting when I have to remove my

human empathy and relay the communication I receive in the

same harsh manner and tone as it was relayed to me.

There needs to be more awareness about the role of an

interpreter. When the communication channel is murky between

the Deaf person, the third party and an interpreter, it hinders my

work. When I meet with a Deaf client, I am merely the vehicle of

communication. With the lack of understanding of my role, people

often look at and talk to me instead of the Deaf person, the one

with whom they are actually communicating.

On reflection, how would you describe your

chosen profession?

It is stressful, but I love my job. I meet new people every day

from all walks of life. Daily, I step into a new environment,

engaging people of different cultures, backgrounds and different

sets of communication skills. I am constantly reminded of how

important communication is and how my skill is a tool that

opens communication channels between the Deaf and

hearing communities

I constantly have to overcome challenges to the benefit of the

Deaf people for which I interpret. Often, in both a Deaf person’s

personal and professional lives, whether good or bad news,

as their interpreter, I hear the news first and pass it on. When I

interpret in life-changing sessions, it can be emotional, but I have

to overlook my feelings and focus

on the integrity of my job.

However, over the years,

I have learned how

important it is to

find healthy ways to

cope with stress and

deal with emotions

due to the different

situations I deal with

daily. My choice of self help is meditation, which

creates mindfulness.

Core to my well-being is

the help and advice I get

from my mentor in the

field, who understands

the sometimes emotional

challenges of the job.

Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” Marianne Williamson.

Interpreting with Integrity - South African Sign Language
Download PDF • 852KB

bottom of page